“The 1st-prize winner”
Yuka Suzuki, Fukushima School for the Blind, 18 years old, (Representative of Tohoku)
The title: “Taking a step forward”
“Oh! This is my name!”
Last summer, I attended a summer school at a private high school near my home. The teachers translated textbooks into Braille for me. For five days I had classes in Japanese and English with 27 sighted students who were studying in preparation to enter a private liberal arts college.
On July 23rd, with great anticipation, I went to classroom number 7 for juniors.
When I opened the door to the classroom, I could feel that a lot of were there and heard the hum of conversation. I also felt a little distant from them as if I was being watched because there were 26 students in the class and all of them were boys. My seat was the last one in the row on the hallway side. When I sat down there, my friend Momoko from my next class visited me to say hello because Mari, the only other girl in this class, was absent that day.
Finally the first class started. Everything was a first experience for me, like laughing together when the teacher cracked jokes or getting nervous with the expectation that the teacher might call on me. When break time came around, I smelled someone’s delicious lunch and realized a boy student was eating already. This was also a fresh experience for me.
During one break, when my friend Mari and I were talking, some boys gathered around us.
“This writes Braille.” Mari said to them.
“Do you want to try it? This stylus is a Braille writer. Braille is always made up of six dots”.
When I explained it to them, one boy typed his name with it. I typed the names of the others and took the paper from the Braille writer.
He said, “Wow! This is my name?!”
“You type really fast, don’t you?”
Then, a long line formed of people wanting to type their own names.
What I remember most is that some students from the karate club seemed very disappointed because they had to go to the club and couldn’t get their name done.
Those five days flew by, and when the summer class ended, we honestly felt that it was “not enough.”
So I joined the winter class as well. When I entered the classroom, I felt relieved because we were like old friends who had spent a long time together, and they naturally accepted me warmly. I was actually surprised because even though we had spent only five days together, they now talked with me as if I was one of them.
I have always had class by myself and have never had any experiences dealing with students from regular schools. This is why I want to go college and study as an ordinary student and work after graduation.
When my teacher suggested that I join the summer class, I was worried about whether the students would accept me because I’m visually impaired, and was afraid I wouldn’t be able to make any friends there. There was no end to my anxieties, but I resolved to “seize the day!.” I was the one who had created an invisible wall between ordinary people and disabled people. But this wall came crumbling down very easily. I was surprised by that and ashamed as well.
I attended spring classes at a school for the blind. One morning, I met Momoko at Adachi station. We took the train together and talked about many things.
“You aren’t taking the bus this morning?”
“I’m walking because I’m taking spring classes now. Let’s go together,”
Momoko said and took my hand. This made me really happy.
We walked a different way than I usually took and went down a back street.
Momoko asked, “Where is your school?”
I answered, “Near the Fukushima high school.”
She replied, “I think I know it!”
While we were talking like this, we got lost. I didn’t know where we were walking and got confused and had the feeling we were very far from my school.
I asked, “Is this road 13?”
She answered, “Yes, this is it.”
Then I asked, “Is there a post office around here? Because there should be a path for the blind if you turn left, and it goes under a pedestrian bridge.”
She replied, “Yes, there is! Ok, no problem.”
What I realized from this adventure is that even though somebody guides you, if you don’t take the initiative and walk independently, the person will never be able to lead you to your goal. I realized that when you get absorbed in conversation, it’s difficult to keep your ears attuned to your surroundings.
As a girl who weighed only 897 grams at birth, I’m once again able to truly appreciate what it is to be alive.
I have been nurtured by the love of many people, and they have helped me and enabled me to grow into the person I am today.
Joining the classes at an ordinary high school has expanded my world enormously. It took a lot of courage for me to step forth into this new world. However small a step this was, it was still progress. I believe that I can always achieve important things in my life if I put my mind to it.
I’m not alone. We all live under the same sky, and many people share similar goals and do their best to achieve them. Whether or not you have a disability, every person should live life to the fullest and take on new challenges on their way to a bright future.
“The 2nd-prize winner”
Kotaro Kitamura, Tokyo Hachioji School for the Blind, 36 years old, (Representative of Kanto)
The title: “Turning point”
It was really a happy time for me, being surrounded by motorcycles, which I love.
At the time, I was working that chief mechanic at a motorcycle shop that specialized in Kawasaki Zs. I had confidence that no one was a better motorcycle mechanic than I was. I could fix any problem perfectly just by touching it! So perhaps I was a bit cocky and drunk with my own abilities.
In those days, I used to go drinking with my co-worker and friends. I was so full of myself and I was being too familiar with an older, more experienced co-worker and talking down to my friends.
Then suddenly one of my younger friends said,
“Who are you to address an older and more experienced co-worker so disrespectfully?! Don’t forget yourself just because you’ve become a hotshot mechanic! What kind of idiot are you?!” Tears were streaming down his face.
This knocked the wind out of my over-inflated ego.
I was thrown into complete confusion and was at a loss for what to do. I’d been in a quandary about this for three months when I got into the accident.
I came to in the pitch dark hearing a familiar voice. It was unmistakably my older brother’s voice. I couldn’t understand. Why I am hearing my brother’s voice? He is supposed to be in my hometown of Kumamoto, but I’m here in Tokyo.
I had gotten into an accident on my motorcycle and was in the ICU.
Because I was under anesthesia, my recollections are intermittent, but I remember that I couldn’t move my body, all of my joints were in a pain and I couldn’t speak even if I tried.
Apparently, I’d been taken to the hospital in shock because of a hemorrhage from an artery that had ruptured from the impact of breaking my pelvis in four places. My face was disfigured and my jaw was also broken. My eyeballs had been burst by the impact, and the doctor recommended that they be surgically removed, but my mother and brother refused to let him. So instead the doctor sewed my eyes closed with a total of over 60 stitches between them.
One day during my recovery while I was still bed-ridden, the doctor came in and told me,
“Your eyes will no longer be able to see.”
I clearly recall feeling like I was plunging into an abyss. I though my life was over.
I thought of killing myself.
I realized that I couldn’t kill myself with a useless body that couldn’t even move.
When I think about it now, I can see how unbelievably silly it was to think of committing suicide at a hospital that was trying to save me, but at the time I was serious.
The hospital ward I was in was for critical and seriously injured patients. Tense situations were like an everyday routine, with doctors and nurses running around hurriedly.
In the same room, there was a middle-aged man who was probably comatose.
Every day at the same time, a girl who must have been his daughter came to him and called to him,
“Dad, Dad . . . hello Dad, wake up.”
Perhaps the doctor told her to do so, but in any case she kept calling to him “Dad. Dad” over and over again, sometimes through tears. But her father never answered her. I realized that even I, in a world where I had nothing but my ears, was hoping and saying to myself “Father, you had better wake up for her. Wake up. Wake up!” I was quite taken aback by my own reaction.
I was hoping the guy next to me, a complete stranger, would survive and get better even though I had been thinking of killing myself. It slowly dawned on me that I wanted to live.
I lost my eyes, but the doctor said that all my other injuries would surely heal. I was saved.
Eventually, I underwent rehabilitation and received daily life training at the Living Center for the visually impaired. Now, I am studying at the Hachioji School for the Blind.
I am different now from the arrogant person I used to be. Now I understand that supporting each other enables us all to live. For me, losing my vision in that accident was the biggest and worst turning point in my life physically. However, it may have been the biggest and best turning point for me spiritually.
I’m still weak and don’t have the confidence and pride yet to say it is real. But once I master Physical Therapy, which is what I’m studying now, and am able to feel that I’m living to help other people and be helped in return, then I’ll truly be able to say that losing my vision was really the best thing to happen in my spiritual journey. From now on, I’m going to live every day to the fullest to achieve this dream.
“The 3 rd-prize winner”
Etsuko Morishima, Gifu Prefectural School for the Blind, 58 years old, (Representative of Chubu)
The title: “Surrounded by kindness”
The eyes that see the flower are gentle.
The mind that thinks of the flower is calm.
The eyes that see people must also be gentle.
The mind that thinks of people must also be calm.
This is one stanza of my favorite poem.
I always remember it whenever I get depressed.
When I look back on my life now, I feel that the power of this poem has supported me. 24 years ago, when I was 34 years old, I was leading a very busy life as the mother of two little girls, one of them six and the other four.
One day, I felt something wrong with my eyes and visited an eye doctor. He told me that the problem with my eyes was called pigmentary degeneration of the retina, which was something I had never heard of before.
When I went back home and told my family, my mother looked it up in a medical manual. When I read the description, the word blindness nearly jumped off the page at me.
What? Am I going blind? The faces of my children, husband and friends flashed in front of my mind’s eye one after the other and, feeling like I had suddenly been left alone in the world, I cried out loud.
When I came to my senses, I realized it was time to pick my girls up from preschool. As we walked home together holding hands, I spoke to them as I always did, saying things like, “Be kind to your friends,” and “If people do something nice for you, be sure to say thank you.”
The words of appreciation I said to my children became very important to me from that point on.
Little by little I was losing my sight, but whenever I faced any kind of problem somebody was always there to help me.
I wanted to travel overseas, but wasn’t sure I could do it on my own. But with help from my friends, I traveled to places like South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, and, farther abroad, to Canada. How much help did I receive? All they said was, “It was fun, wasn’t it?” and “Let’s go again.”
Since going blind, I’ve become more keenly attuned to people’s kindness. Whenever anybody helps me, I truly appreciate their help and am grateful from the bottom of my heart. I cannot exaggerate how thankful I am.
I’m now studying acupressure and massage at the school for blind’s Physical Therapy department. Going back to school again after 40 years is a fresh adventure, and I’m enjoying every day of it.
I’ve participated in school and sports festivals, and also enjoy breaking a sweat with young people in various club sports. Right now, I’m on a floor volleyball team, and we are in the middle of intensive practice for a competition in November.
The sport is played with four people per team and is intense and fierce, just like a fight. Sometimes I get so excited I forget my own age and scream “Yes!” when I spike the ball and score. Studying is much more difficult, but I try to stimulate my scrambled old brain and am working to pass the national exam. If I’m able to bring even a little comfort to people who are suffering from illness, it would be a small way of repaying all the people who have helped me so much.
My girls, who were so little back then, have now grown up. Having had to accept and be supportive of their mother’s disability from the time they were very little, they have grown up to be very kind and considerate of people who are suffering. My elder daughter will get married this year and will probably become a mother someday. I truly hope she will raise my grandchildren with this same kindness and consideration.
When people are kind to you, your heart will be peaceful. I believe that when your heart becomes peaceful, you can be kind to people in return. I pray that more people are able to become peaceful and pass their appreciation on to others.
“Everyone, are your eyes kind when you see other people?”
“Everyone, is your heart peaceful when you think of other people?”